Last year I met up with a small group of people that I went to secondary school with. Over the years we had managed to keep in touch and every so often, maybe twice a year we would meet up. This always gives a chance to catch up on the very different routes that our lives have taken, a few of us are now entering the realms of being grandparents, some have travelled far and wide, others are still doing the same job they had after leaving school. One thing that doesn’t change is that we can all recall stories from those days at school. One of them can even remember the whole class register!
When I was talking to one of them, I asked how his brother was doing. But the answer wasn’t quite what I was expecting. He explained, with a great deal of sadness, that his brother and he had fallen out about 10 years ago, and as a result he hadn’t seen or even spoken to him for about 8 years. As we continued to talk, he added that he can’t even really remember what the original dispute was about, but things had gone from bad to worse and they now found themselves in this difficult situation. What could be done to fix it, if it was fixable he concluded, he didn’t know. But, what stuck with me from that conversation was the line, “Oh well, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family!”
As a deacon I have the privilege of accompanying some families as they prepare and celebrate the funeral service of a relative. Unfortunately, as many a deacon and priest will tell you, the situation described by my friend isn’t uncommon, and it often comes to a head when a member of the family, usually a parent, dies. Old feelings surface, memories and rivalries are stirred, and occasionally wounds or feuds reopened. Sometimes this causes people to miss out on attending the funeral service itself, and in doing so being able to say the goodbye that they wanted to.
On a happier note, I have, at least twice, had the fortunate experience of witnessing a form of reconciliation between 2 parties in a family, and their differences have been put aside, at least for the sake of the funeral service.
There are of course any number of reasons why these situations arise, and each one is unique in regard to the circumstances and personalities involved. They are rarely something that is fixed simply by a shake of the hand or words alone. Often some mediation is required and concessions need to be made to ensure lasting peace. Unlike between friends, the bond between family members can be harder to break, but also harder to heal.
So it comes as a bit of a challenge when we hear Christ tell us that we are all brothers and sisters in the faith. My Church family. He also tells me that if I’m holding a grudge against my brother (or sister), I must be reconciled with them before I present myself before God the Father. (Matt 5:23-24). If I am totally honest I find some people in the church difficult to get on with, even to the extent that I’ll choose not to associate with them, either in person, or by other means. I don’t really want to be in a state of dispute, so I will walk away. But am I doing the right thing in doing this?
I suppose I get around this by telling myself that they aren’t my friends, and they aren’t really my family, even though I say I belong to the family of the church. Does this mean I belong to a dysfunctional family? The only way the church can be described as a dysfunctional family is because of the actions of it’s members. Unfortunately we do hear of this all too often, and it becomes incumbent upon us, as members of the family/faith to do something about it. But what to do?
As with any problem the first step is to be able to recognise that something is wrong, the next step being to then consider and acknowledge, no matter how painful it might be, that I’m a significant part in this particular situation, whatever it might be, and finally then to accept that some action on my part is needed to do something about it. This sounds simple, but the reality is that it is extremely hard to swallow our pride, and take the first step.
I recently saw a slogan on a t-shirt that read “Every journey begins with a few little steps.” This I think is so very true when we consider any journey towards reconciliation between two or more people. Everybody has to be prepared to take the steps, but most importantly someone has to take the initial steps. Am I the person that is prepared to take those steps?
Christ is of course our supreme example of taking the steps of reconciliation. He had done nothing wrong, but was without hesitation to hold out a welcoming hand to those that had created a state of conflict with Him. We too, if we truly want to follow His example, must be prepared to hold out the same welcoming hand to everybody, not just those it suits us to.
The picture that we all want of our family, is one of harmony and love. It is therefore our responsibility to actively seek to promote that ideal. We do this by trying our best to live out our Christian calling, and by allowing Christ, through the Holy Spirit, to guide us.
Our challenge then is to think of someone we need to be reconciled with, offer this intention to the Lord in prayer, asking for His help, and then put that desire into action. I may have to do this several times, but the joy of family cannot be underestimated.
Deacon Ian Black